Una Clarke – the toast of the town

Former New York City Councilwoman Una S.T.Clarke was the “toast of the town” Monday night, as hundreds of community figures, legislators, members of the judiciary and clergy, supporters and well-wishers attended a gala reception honoring her appointment to the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York (CUNY).

In June, Mayor Bill deBlasio appointed Clarke to the board, replacing Joseph Lhota.

“First let’s thank Dr. Clarke for the lovely weather; the trade winds of Jamaica [are] flowing through,” said City Public Advocate Letitia James in addressing the standing-room only reception at Giando on the Water in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, referring to Clarke’s place of birth.

“Dr. Clarke has shattered so many ceilings for women,” James added. “I stand on her shoulders, Rodneyse (Assemblywoman Bichotte), Latrice (Assemblywoman Walker), and Diana (Assemblywoman Richardson).

“As a new member of the Board of Trustees, she will stand truth to power,” she continued. She’s an inspiration to countless numbers of New Yorkers. She will do a good job.”

Bronx-based Episcopal (Anglican) priest the Rev. Calvin McIntyre said he has been a “life-long” friend of the Clarke family for 30 of his 35 years in the priesthood.

“All you’ve heard of this noble woman is true,” said Rev. McIntyre, Clarke’s compatriot. “Aunt Una is a gem in Jamaica. Although she lives here, she’s known in Jamaica.

“We’re extremely proud of you,” he added, turning to Clarke. “I can tell the president that CUNY will not be the same. She’s not afraid of anybody. Those who are poor, marginalized, she’ll be their voice.

“She’s a strong church woman,” Rev. McIntyre continued. “She’s a very outright woman. She speaks here mind easily; and, afterwards, she’ll buy you a drink.”

Clarke’s daughter, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, said her mother has been a public servant from Day One, serving the public for 45 years.

“So it’s not a surprise when the Mayor appointed her as a trustee of CUNY,” the congresswoman said. “Dr. Clarke has always made herself available. This event is a reflection of all that she has done.

“It is quite fitting that someone who has those values will ascend to the Board of Trustees,” she added. “She keeps going. It’s a blessing to have your parents in your life – in your right mind and right theme.

“It’s so good to see you come out,” Clarke continued. “Dr. Clarke, we’re very proud of you. You help all of us to be in public service.”

In his congratulatory message, Mayor deBlasio commended the State Senate for confirming Dr. Clarke’s appointment to the CUNY Board of Trustees.

He noted that, during Clarke’s tenure on the City Council, she was a “prolific legislator and tireless advocate for students across the five boroughs.

“I’m confident that Dr. Clarke will bring her vast knowledge as a former educator and longtime public servant to further improve the quality of education CUNY delivers to its students every day,” said the Mayor, who had served with Clarke in the City Council.

Clarke said she was “humbled” by the outpouring of support, adding that “without your help, my name would be unknown, my face would be unknown.

“When things get tough, I’ll call you up to CUNY,” she said, later flanked by members of the Progressive Democratic Political Association (PDPA), the Brooklyn-based political club that Clarke founded and is the president. “I’m extremely grateful for your love. This is beyond my expectation.”

Assemblywoman Annette presented Clarke with a bouquet of flowers; William “Bill” Howard, who organized the event with Bishop Sylveta Gonzales, gave Clarke a dozen red roses; and Patricia Jordan-Langford, president of the Guyana Tri-State Alliance, honored Clarke with a plaque on behalf of her group.

Clarke was the first foreign-born, as well as the first Caribbean-born woman, to be elected to the City Council.

She represented Brooklyn’s 40th Council District for 10 years, starting in 1991.

During her tenure, she sponsored more than 300 pieces of legislation on issues including child welfare, education, health and mental health, economic development, public safety and transportation.

She was an active member of the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucus.

An educator by profession, Clarke directed millions of dollars in funding to upgrade schools in her district, rebuild parks and playgrounds, and increase quality childcare programs.

Clarke led many campaigns to reform immigration laws that encouraged citizenship and voter registration. She considers her greatest accomplishment as a member of the City Council the rebuilding of Kings County Hospital.

Clarke served as a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in 1992. In 1996 she was one of six New Yorkers appointed to the National Platform Committee of the Democratic Party.

In 2001, Clarke was appointed by then Governor George Pataki as Director of the Empire State Development Corporation for the Borough of Brooklyn.

She is a member of the Diocesan Council for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, and was named to the Board of Trustees for Nazareth Regional High School after her successful efforts to save the school from closure.

She was also appointed a trustee of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Clarke was the first foreign-born recipient of Columbia University’s prestigious Charles H. Revson Fellowship in 1984, the first time the fellowship was ever presented to someone over age 35.

She was the first Caribbean-born woman to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2001. In 1999, she received the Commander of the Order of Distinction (C.D.) from the Government of Jamaica for distinguished service to Jamaicans and Caribbean nationals in North America.

Clarke holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Long Island University, a Master of Education degree from New York University, and has completed additional post-graduate studies at Teachers College and the School of Business at Columbia University.

She received the Honorary Doctor of Letters in November 2005 from the University of Technology in Jamaica.

Clarke serves as a member of the CUNY Board’s Standing Committee on Fiscal Affairs and also its Subcommittee on Investment.